Magic youngsters show franchise has depth
Anyone worried about the future playing stocks of the Magic can think again after an impressive win by Waikato-Bay of Plenty at the inaugural national under-23 tournament in Wellington this week.
The Magic have been renowned for relying on big-gun Silver Ferns mixed with a few back-up acts, while also carrying players who hardly leave the bench.
But, given the chance to show their wares, the young brigade proved their worth, easing fears about the standard of the local talent coming through.
The Waikato-Bay of Plenty Zone, like Northern, optimistically sent two sides - Gold and Silver - to the under-23 event, and while both regions' B teams were well off the pace, WBOP's top side racked up impressive wins then showed great aptitude to grind out close victories in the semifinal and final to finish unbeaten.
Their group of 11 included a quartet of 2013 Magic squad members - Erena Mikaere, Kendra Falefitu, Jamie-Lee Price and Nadia Loveday.
"It gives them the crucial court time that they need," zone high performance manager Delwyn Spedding said. "And it's probably something that Netball New Zealand are looking at for next year, to build the player base but also to have players who are match fit so that if any opportunity arises at an ANZ franchise level they are ready to step in."
Spedding, whose role sees her work closely with the Magic coaching staff to ensure programmes and development opportunities are in place to flow down through the zone, said she was "immensely proud" of the team's achievements.
"It's a really exciting result and a really good team effort because, on paper, a couple of other teams were probably picked ahead of our team.
"We had youngsters who were footing it with players from other zones who have been in franchise teams."
Spedding said they would now decide whether to continue with two under-23 teams or instead just focus one one and build layers underneath.
"It's making sure that at centre level we've got strong systems in place to blood younger players and that the expectations are given to them and they know what it means to be a high performance athlete and what they need to do. It's all about building a bigger player base."
Coach of the successful Gold side, Mary-Jane Araroa, heaped praise on outgoing Magic coach Noeline Taurua for the work she had done with the four Magic players during the year.
Araroa also acknowledged how fit and strong-minded her team's players were, having had to make big commitments for training, travelling two and a half hours each way twice a week after work and getting home near midnight.
"They were just really determined to better themselves as we went into every game," she said.
"And not at one time did these girls ever feel that they were going to lose. They just knew it was going to be a hard grind."
Meanwhile, two players from the Waikato-Bay of Plenty Gold side have been named in the New Zealand Under-21 team for next month's World Youth Championship in Scotland.
Midcourter Loveday and shooter Brooke Leaver are included, with the latter called in as a replacement for Central Zone's Nicola Mackle, who had to withdraw for medical reasons.
The team, who will be looking to wrestle the crown off Australia, is headlined by Silver Fern Kayla Cullen and is coached by the Southern Steel's Janine Southby, who is assisted by Adrienne Morrin.